Star selection

1st October 2004 at 01:00
With National Poetry Day on October 7, Adele Geras browses anthologies for key stages 2 and 3

ONCE UPON A POEM: Favourite Poems that Tell Stories. Foreword by Kevin Crossley-Holland. The Chicken House pound;14.99


LIFE AND DEATH. With an introduction by Philip Pullman

WAR AND PEACE. With an introduction by Michael Morpurgo. Wizard Books Pounds 5.99 each

SENSATIONAL! Poems Inspired by the Five Senses. Chosen by Roger McGough. Macmillan Children's Books pound;9.99

PAINT ME A POEM: New Poems Inspired by Art in the Tate. By Grace Nichols and primary pupils. AC Black pound;12.99

FROM MOUTH TO MOUTH. Oral poems selected by John Agard and Grace Nichols. Walker Books pound;5.99

'The Snail' by Henri Matisse prompts creative thinking in Paint Me a Poem, along with 'Women and Bird in the Moonlight' by Joan Mir"

In three of these collections, the names of famous children's writers have been used in an attempt to lure readers with the bait of celebrity. There's nothing wrong with that. Everyone enjoys knowing what their favourite writers recommend, and in this case, Crossley-Holland, Pullman and Morpurgo provide sensible and encouraging introductions to the delights within.

However, in the case of the Wizard anthologies, the estimable Kate Agnew is the selector and deserves some credit on the cover.

Crossley-Holland's book is full of beautiful and lavish illustrations by four artists who know one another from student days. It's good to see narrative verse celebrated, as lyrical poetry usually preoccupies both teachers and pupils. There's nothing like a good story told metrically and rhythmically and most children will be won over by "The Highwayman" and "Jabberwocky".

There are other, lesser-known treats along the way and each is introduced, sometimes with just a sentence, by a star of the children's books firmament. It's a beautiful book and big enough to show to a whole class.

Teachers could do worse than learn to recite a couple of these sagas by heart in time for National Poetry Day (only joking).

The Wizard anthologies, companions to Love and Loss and Fear and Trembling, are very good value. You'll find all sorts of poems and pieces of prose there from both modern (pre-20th-century) and ancient writers. They've been carefully arranged to provide good contrasts and comparisons and they cover much of our literary heritage: poems that might appear to be too well-known but which many children have yet to meet, perhaps because although a plethora of anthologies vies for our attention, some are bursting with stuff that's hardly worth reproducing.

None of these books falls into that category, but even a volume as energetic as Sensational has a few duds. There are gems too, such as the poem about greed by Kit Wright, and the contributions by the editor himself.

Grace Nichols, in her Visual Paths residency at the Tate, worked with classes from inner-London primaries to create some really excellent work.

The tiny poem about Matisse's "Snail", by the Reception class at St Gabriel's Church of England school, has a haiku-like delicacy and is worth quoting in full: The coloured snail is going into the garden to eat the green grass.

Nichols herself has produced some interesting poems and credit must go to Colin Griggs, initiator of the Visual Paths scheme, who has provided an excellent section for teachers at the back of the book. Colour reproductions of the art are included. The book would be an inspiration in any primary classroom.

Finally, my favourite is a small and unassuming paperback. John Agard and Grace Nichols' collection of oral poetry from around the world is packed with discoveries that resonate and give pleasure of a very particular kind.

Many of the poems remind you of something or take you back to your childhood or to fairy tales and folk legends. They have a delightful simplicity about them, precisely because they were fashioned to say or sing.

The illustrations, by Annabel Wright, are quite exquisite and the book has been produced with Walker's customary loving attention to detail.

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